About this book
Soul of the Border
Matteo Righetto • Howard Curtis
The De Boer family are tobacco growers, working on terraces in the Veneto region of northern Italy. Life is hard, and the father, Augusto, occasionally supplements their income by smuggling tobacco across the border into Austria. Sometimes he takes his daughter Jole with him, and father and daughter journey together on the perilous route over the mountains.
But Augusto mysteriously never returns from one of these trips, and Jole, driven to provide for her family, inherits her father’s smuggling route. Accompanied only by her horse, Sansom, she must retrace the dangerous journey through the spectacular landscape, hoping for a good trade in exchange for her tobacco, but also to discover the truth behind her father’s disappearance.
Written in spare, crystalline prose and cinematic in scope, Soul of the Border is an epic story of revenge and salvation, a ferocious tale of violence and corruption, and a journey into the wild.
Augusto and Agnese had three children. Jole was born in 1878, Antonia in 1883, and Sergio in 1886.
Physically and emotionally, Jole was just like her mother, which was probably why she loved her father above all. She almost always tied her blonde hair in a long plait that fell between her shoulder blades. She was thin and had large eyes of indeterminate colour: at times they seemed as green as a larch grove in summer, at others as grey as a wolf’s winter coat, at others still as blue-green as an Alpine lake in spring.
More than anything else, Jole loved horses and even as a little girl walked barefoot through woods and impassable paths just to see them. To satisfy her passion, especially in summer, she was capable of leaving in the morning and not returning until just before sunset. There were two places where she could see them: to the north, on the pastures of Rendale, where there were many nags that followed the shepherds and their Foza sheep, and to the south, on the ridges of Sasso, where many carthorses were used to transport marble from the quarries.
She liked all horses, whether they were light-footed stallions or heavy farm animals. As a child she would look at them in awe, her big eyes open as if to capture a dream, a piece of magic.
Her sister Antonia liked to wear her hair short, and Agnese cut it for her twice a year, with old iron scissors, taking care not to prick her because tetanus was less forgiving than hunger. Antonia would help her mother in the house, and she liked making things to eat with what little there was. She, too, was often in the woods during the summer. She went there to listen to the cries of the wild animals and smell the pleasant aromas of the trees.
She would collect in an old tin can the resin secreted from the bark of the red firs and take it to her father, who would knead and mould it into hard little balls, useful for lighting the fire in the stove. Augusto, though, would always leave a little for Antonia, who used it to protect flowers or particularly beautiful insects from the ravages of time, thus adding them to her collection.
But Antonia did not only collect resin. She also gathered wild strawberries, raspberries, and elderflowers, with which her mother made an excellent refreshing juice mixed with water from the river.
It was the big river down in the valley that was the favourite spot of the youngest of the De Boers. Often Sergio would walk through the wood that stretched to the east of Nevada and sit down on the edge of the cliff over the Brenta Valley, and from there look down and listen to the sound of the river as it descended towards Bassano del Grappa and then, further still, onto the Venetian Plain. Sergio was skinny and fair haired. He was never still, he was the one who spoke most of all of them, he was not quiet for a second. As a joke, his mother and his sisters always said he spoke double because as well as his own voice he had taken on his father’s.
All three children, though, apart from living their days with the ardour, the dreams, the blessed unawareness of every little girl or boy of their age, worked hard in the tobacco fields alongside their parents: it was a fate that nobody was allowed to avoid.
About the Creators
MATTEO RIGHETTO lives and works in Padua, at the border of the wilderness of north-eastern Italy. Many of his works take place in beautiful mountain landscapes that he knows deeply, having visited them since childhood backpacking with his father. Among his best-known novels are the celebrated La pelle dell’orso (The Bear Skin), recently made into a movie, and Apri gli occhi (Open Your Eyes), winner of the Premio Cortina. L’Anima della frontiera (Soul of the Border) became a literary success and was sold in several countries before its publication in Italy. The author is now working on the second title in the trilogy, L’Ultima patria (The Last Homeland).
HOWARD CURTIS has translated more than sixty books from French, Italian, and Spanish. Among his recent translations are works by Daniel Arsand, Santiago Gamboa, and Paolo Sorrentino. His current projects include two novels by Carole Martinez, a book of short stories by Andrej Longo, and the Duca Lamberti tetralogy by Giorgio Scerbanenco. He lives in London, U.K.
Awards and Praise
PRAISE FOR MATTEO RIGHETTO AND SOUL OF THE BORDER
“A harrowing, suspenseful, and convincing novel . . . something beautiful.” — Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter’s Bone
“Written in a laconic style, with scarcely any dialogue, the often poignant novel is beautifully executed as it creates an ethos that is haunting and altogether memorable. Seemingly simple and straightforward, the story resonates with timeless characters and situations, investing them with the weight of allegory.” — Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
“Righetto’s novel abounds with naturalistic details that help create a fine sense of place — evoking both the literal path that Jole follows and the sense of a world on the cusp of something.” — Kirkus Reviews
“A complex and beautifully written novel . . . Soul of the Border is compelling and immersive. It illustrates the strength of the human soul as it confronts challenges and evils without question. Jole’s coming-of-age journey is painful but inspirational.” — Historical Novels Review, Editor’s Choice
“Soul of the Border is the real deal. Rich in mood and with a great feel for the environment it traverses, this is one clever and beautiful book, and I highly recommend it. It was fantastic.” — Joe R. Lansdale, author of Paradise Sky
“Soul of the Border is a beautiful novel that encapsulates nature at its toughest and most stunning, and humanity at its strongest and most uplifting . . . out of this world.” — Cub Magazine (Five Stars)
“Written in sparse prose over often very short chapters, the story unfolds both in action and in setting with masterful pacing and precision.” — Pendora Magazine
“[A] taut, stylish novel . . . Will appeal to fans of Cormac McCarthy, and it almost reads like a European version of a western. A stark and beautiful natural setting, strong female protagonist, and the rhythm and raw economy of the prose make Soul of the Border seductive.” — Age
“A novel in which you hear the howling of the wolf, the hoots of the owl, the tingling of insects in the meadows, you feel Nature talking and moving, in which all the passions and impulses of men are expressed . . . Mysterious, ‘biblical,’ impetuous, Matteo Righetto’s novel exposes all the implications of crossing a frontier. And once crossed, the reader, together with the characters, will no longer be the same.” — Il Giornale
“Matteo Righetto’s writing is clear and crystalline as the mountains . . . A bitter and delicate story, multifaceted as a hard stone, seductive as the land of the high Brenta Valley. A story precise like a photograph that reflects the colours and emotions, evokes the scents, sounds, whims of that small far world, between peaks and springs.” — Corriere del Veneto
“A novel that places a gripping personal tale of survival and revenge at the centre of its meticulously depicted historical setting.” — Pendora Magazine